Do We Really Need Copyright For Academic Publishing?

from the worth-thinking-about dept

QuestionCopyright has an interesting article about the role that open access might play in opening up China to new ideas. But what really caught my attention was the following section:

Because copyright originated from publishing, it is is primarily concerned with protecting the expression of works – whereas the ideas expressed are not copyrightable. In other words, it is illegal to copy or reproduce a work without authorization, but perfectly fine to borrow one's ideas by paraphrasing. Yet, if you talk with any scholars or professors in China, you will find that most authors are more concerned if others borrow their ideas without giving them credit. It is not a big deal if their papers or journal articles are posted online by others without their authorization. Some of the authors may even be pleased to know their ideas are more widely circulated so long as the works are attributed to their names and are not altered without their permission.
I think this raises an important issue. Perhaps copyright protects the wrong thing for academics: what they really care about is credit for the ideas their papers contain, not how they phrased them.

This analysis echoes suggestions I've heard elsewhere that one approach to reforming copyright would be to abolish it completely for academic publishing. Not only do scholars not need copyright for their work, if it's ideas not expression that counts, it gets in the way by putting obstacles between them and the research of others.

Moreover, as the QuestionCopyright article points out, fully opening up research would also be the best way of tackling what seems to be the chief fear of academic authors: plagiarism. More readers able to access more works would mean a greater likelihood that unacknowledged copying between them would be noticed and exposed.

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  •  
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    Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 11:30pm

    About Academics

    To understand what is really going on, we have to realize that copyright doesn't "protect" anything. It rather creates an artificial scarcity in order to commercialize a monopoly on restricting copying an author's works. I think that the term of "protection" to describe what copyright does is propagandistic in nature. It leads people to think that works need to be "protected" from copying.

    Academic researchers and writers (I am one) who publish their works in journals are only concerned with two things: that we are given proper credit, and, in the case of non-creative works, that the integrity of the writing is respected and not modified. This is to guarantee the integrity of our research, which is extremely important to us. Plagiarism is another different thing from copyright, although both are inevitably associated.

    I have nothing against opening up my works to the public. Quite the contrary, the academy would greatly benefit on its basis.

     

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      Richard (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 3:25am

      Re: About Academics

      To understand what is really going on, we have to realize that copyright doesn't "protect" anything. It rather creates an artificial scarcity in order to commercialize a monopoly on restricting copying an author's works.

      Actually it once did protect the integrity of the work. In the early days of printing the authors' complaint was usually that pirated copies were inaccurate rather than that they were a financial loss. The public also had an interest in getting a copy that had the author's approval because that provided a guarantee that there were no significant mistakes. In those days the copyright mark provided a certificate of authenticity.

      If you look at the structure of early copyright law it was clearly designed to protect the effort involved in accurately typesetting first print run of a book (the initial 14 years) with the option of renewal for a reprint (if the author still lived and could therefore certify the correctness of the new version).
      Perfect digital reproduction renders all of this irrelevant. It follows that copyright has outlived its original purpose. It should be replaced by something that protects the contractual rights of creators when work is commissioned, guarantees credit is assigned accurately and prevent plagiarism.

       

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        Andrew D. Todd, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 4:44am

        Plagiarism as an Inside Job (response to Richard, #6)

        Well, of course the most insidious form of academic plagiarism is what one might call "institutional plagiarism," meaning the professor/laboratory director/department head claiming authorship of work produced by his graduate students and post-docs. In extreme cases, an "academic capitalist" will be listed as an author of more work than he could reasonably read. Again, in extreme cases, when the professor acquires a girlfriend, she will get her share of automatic authorship, and thus be promoted ahead of the people who actually did the work. A truly extreme case is when the professor takes up with an outright streetwalker or call girl, who is more or less illiterate, and decides that it would be wonderful to be able to pay her out of government grant funds. That seems improbable, but see Linda Wolfe's _The Professor and the Prostitute and Other Tales of Murder and Madness_ (1986).

         

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        Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 8:09am

        Re: Re: About Academics

        Hi Richard:

        I won't challenge you in your allegation, it is correct. However, that was not the reason for the creation of Copyright. If you look at both, the Anne Statute, and the Constitution of the U.S., the primary reason why there was copyright was not "protection" of the integrity of an author's work, but rather the creation of incentives to promote the arts and sciences. How? By creating the artificial scarcity I'm talking about. Whether copyright could be used (in a practical sense) for protecting a work's integrity is secondary.

        In fact, it is so secondary, that authors today cannot "protect" the integrity of their own works once they sign a deal with a publisher, record or movie company ... despite the fact that their works are copyrighted. This is because copyright operates in the commercial arena, and it is primordially commercial ...

         

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          Richard (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 3:44pm

          Re: Re: Re: About Academics

          If you look at both, the Anne Statute, and the Constitution of the U.S., the primary reason why there was copyright was not "protection" of the integrity of an author's work, but rather the creation of incentives to promote the arts and sciences.

          That was not the reason - that was the excuse!
          The reason was the publishers' desire to re-establish the printing monopoly they had been granted in the 16th century.

          My point was about the motivations of authors - who certainly didn't benefit directly from the form of copyright that existed before 1710 - to back the publishers cause. If you read the surviving comments of authors about these issues from the 16th and 17th centuries you will find that the integrity of the work seems to be the main issue for them at that time. Here, for example, is Martin Luther
          :

          " Avarice now strikes / and plays this knavish trick on our printers
          whereby others are instantly reprinting [our translation] / and are thus depriving us of our work
          and expenses to their profit, / which is a downright public robbery /
          and will surely be punished by God / and which is unworthy of any honest
          Christian. It is not for my own sake, though, that I am concerned / since it was
          freely that I received / and freely that I gave it, / and I ask for nothing in return:
          / Christ my Lord has repaid me for it many hundred thousand times over.

          But this I must lament about avarice, / that these greedy and rapacious
          pirate printers are handling our work carelessly. For, seeking only
          their own profit, / they don't care much about the accuracy of what they are
          reprinting, / and it has often happened to me / when reading their reprinted text / that
          I found it so full of errors / that in many places I couldn't recognize my own work /
          and had to correct it from scratch. / They just print it off quickly, as there's money to be made.
          Whereas (if they were true printers) they surely ought to know from experience
          that one can't be careful enough when it comes to such work / as printing.
          / Anyone who has ever tried such work / will bear witness to what I am saying /
          about the amount of care that it demands."

           

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    Mr. Oizo, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 12:22am

    This is a nice example

    The following two links are interesting because chapter 4.1 in Escobars work is an almost straight copy from the original paper by Scheirer. Escobar was probably a student at the time and she/he does refer to Scheirers paper. However, nowhere does she/he say that the chapter is copied almost literaly from the paper. This was of course necessary to be able to claim the writing as her/his own.

    See chapter 4.1 in Escobars work (2001 - http://mue.music.miami.edu/thesis/margarita_escobar/margarita_escobar_thesis.pdf) and compare it to Sheirers original paper (1998 - http://www.ee.columbia.edu/~dpwe/papers/Schei98-beats.pdf)

    The interesting thing is that this is a clear case of plagiarism.

    It is however not so clear whether Escobar should be allowed to copy the entire paper. In this case I feel it would have been much more appropriate to rewrite the chapter as follows: 'Below I copied the paper by Scheirer entirely, because it is so interesting'.

    Now, following this techdirt article where the suggestion is made that the 'idea' counts, not the writing. That could be interpreted that Escobar should not be allowed to communicate the content of the ideas created by Sheirer. That is of course utter nonsense.

    What is necessary is for people to grow up: copy all you want, but give due credit. And because that last part is not part of the standard equipment given by humans when they are born, it must be taught.

    In this particular case, the student was at fault by suggesting that she/he wrote the work. The supervisor, who should have known that this was a copy, should have told the student not to do this and that she/he would only pass if proper credit was given.

    Any thoughts on this ?

     

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      Richard (profile), Dec 23rd, 2011 @ 3:33am

      Re: This is a nice example

      Was Escobar Scheirer's student?

      Did Escobar write it in the first place and then allow Scheirer to take the credit on the basis that (s)he could re-use it later in her/his thesis?

      That is quite a common scenario (although you would expect to see Escobar's name on the original paper).

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 12:35am

    Academics might mostly be in favor. The problem would be with those who actually hold and enforce the copyright - the publishing companies. These companies make untold amounts licensing databases and journals to universities for ridiculous prices, considering that most of the work is done by the academics at the universities. Professors and universities even often fight with publishing companies to get institutional repository rights.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 1:45am

      Re:

      If copyright is not applicable to acedemic papers, there would not even be problem that some publishers require the authors of paper give them full copyright ownership, because there would be no copyright exist on the paper at all.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 6:30am

      Re:

      The problem would be with those who actually hold and enforce the copyright - the publishing companies.

      The fact that publishing companies (and record labels) among others, basically force their clients to relinquish their copyright is, as far as I am concerned, just another form of extortion (same as with their mass lawsuits/settlement letter).

      As someone who was probably one of the biggest copyright supporters around when the Napster case hit, I can no longer support these people in good faith. To me, they are just a bunch of criminals, and at this stage I am all in favor of doing away with copyright completely.

       

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    monkyyy, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 1:06am

    of course they do

    THINK OF THE CHILDREN, or ur a evil commie/pirate/thief/etc.

     

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    Rikuo (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 2:31am

    Hey guys, report this post. I just want to know if I'm doing the HTML tags right.

    Senate Approves Intelligence Bill

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 3:27am

    Do we need copyright a granted monopoly?

     

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    Eo Nomine, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 4:10am

    Moral Rights

    "Perhaps copyright protects the wrong thing for academics: what they really care about is credit for the ideas their papers contain, not how they phrased them.
    This analysis echoes suggestions I've heard elsewhere that one approach to reforming copyright would be to abolish it completely for academic publishing. Not only do scholars not need copyright for their work, if it's ideas not expression that counts, it gets in the way by putting obstacles between them and the research of others."

    1) You've clearly never heard of moral rights / droit moral, which is prevelant n civilian jurisdictions (and several commonwealth jurisdictions like Canada) and protects THIS VERY THING (primilarily right of attribution & right of integrity). Abolishing copyright eliminates these rights for academics in countries that have them.

    2) If copyright serves no useful purpose for academics, there is absolutely nothing stopping any academic or institution from releasing all of their research papers under an open access license or even dedicating it to the public domain. Suggesting that the whole system must be abolished to cater to a small, specialized segment that doesn't require it's protections when that same segment can opt out of the system voluntarily is non-sensical... It's like suggesting we abolish car insurance because people who don't drive don't need it, even when they're not required to get it (and suggests that this is more about the author and QuestionCopyright's anti-copyright agenda than about helping academics).

    3) "More readers able to access more works would mean a greater likelihood that unacknowledged copying between them would be noticed and exposed." Really? Do we know that more people read access open access materials than traditionally published materials accessible via proprietary databases? Do we know if they detect plagiarism more often? This is a pretty bald assertion to make without any actual facts to back it up. Again, it's nonsensical to call for all of copyright to be abolished merely because there is a "likelihood" that more plagiarism might possibly be detected theoretically (funny that copyright opponents constantly complain that copyright policy is not sufficiently evidence based but seem to have no problem making their own assertions based on suppositions without any actual facts to back them up).

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 5:44am

      Re: Moral Rights

      Re #2: Unfortunately, when job performance and future grants (i.e., future work) are predicated upon number of publications in high prestige journals, putting out papers in the public domain is a no go for academicians - they can't get "credit" for them, so it's a waste of time.

      Moreover, because the publishing process typically includes the peer review process, publishing papers and findings outside these copyrighted journals immediately lessens their importance and weight - regardless of the quality of the work.

      Copyright not only serves no useful purpose in academia, it actually has unnecessarily locked the peer review process in the publishing/copyrighting process, and thus the free flow of ideas/innovative ways of approaching topics and problems/research for the greater good has been stifled and the course of science immeasurably distorted.

       

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      Karl Fogel (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 11:13am

      Re: Moral Rights

      Plenty of academics would like to publish without restrictions, but their tenure review and other professional committees reward them for publishing with established academic presses -- which in turn tend to be very conservative about restricting access to the materials.

      The comparison with car insurance doesn't work. I can't opt out of copyright, and neither can you -- because when someone accepts the state's offer of a monopoly on a work they created, we *all* are opted in to that monopoly. This is just as true when that acceptance happens under pressure, as is the case with academic presses.

      I'm not sure what kind of evidence would satify you that open distribution prevents plagiarism; I have to admit, this seems self-evidently obvious to me. Do you find it interesting that in the area where open distribution is most prevalant and consistent -- open source software -- there is virtually no plagiarism problem, even though there is plenty of motivation to plagiarize?

      Anyway, if you accept that there is a lack of evidence either way, then shouldn't we default to non-restriction instead of restriction?

      Finally, get civil. No, seriously. There's no need to conduct conversation in this manner: "You've clearly never heard of moral rights / droit moral..." Really? The poster has "clearly" never heard of it? I suspect the contrary, and that the more likely explanation is he considered it irrelevant to his point, which it is, since most of the so-called droits morals have little to do with copying and are really about attribution. Getting them attached to publisher-driven copyright law was one of the great triumphs of intellectual obfuscation on the part of the publishing industry.

      Don't assume your interlocutors are idiots, please. They just disagree with you. So far, I find them more convincing.

       

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      Simon (profile), Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 6:28am

      Re: Moral Rights

      @Glyn Moody Thanks for citing my article at QuestionCopyright.org.

      @Eo Nomine Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      1) You've clearly never heard of moral rights / droit moral, which is prevelant n civilian jurisdictions (and several commonwealth jurisdictions like Canada) and protects THIS VERY THING (primilarily right of attribution & right of integrity). Abolishing copyright eliminates these rights for academics in countries that have them.

      I think most people who advocate reforming or abolishing copyright would like to keep the right of attribution and right of integraity in place. For example, Depoorter Ben, Holland Adam, and Somerstein Elizabeth, “Copyright Abolition and Attribution”, Review of Law & Economics 5, no. 3 (December 31, 2009), http://www.bepress.com/rle/vol5/iss3/art5.

      2) If copyright serves no useful purpose for academics, there is absolutely nothing stopping any academic or institution from releasing all of their research papers under an open access license or even dedicating it to the public domain. Suggesting that the whole system must be abolished to cater to a small, specialized segment that doesn't require it's protections when that same segment can opt out of the system voluntarily is non-sensical... It's like suggesting we abolish car insurance because people who don't drive don't need it, even when they're not required to get it (and suggests that this is more about the author and QuestionCopyright's anti-copyright agenda than about helping academics).

      Most scholars are not familiar with the copyright debate. Their primary concern is to get their works published and when the publishers ask them to sign whatever copyright agreement before they can publish their works, they usually do so without giving much thought to it. Recently, efforts are made to encourage scholars to add additional clause to the copyright agreement so they can legally share their own works with the general public. (e.g. SPARC Author Addendum) Nevertheless, authors may get apprehensive about this sort of legal details.

      On the other hand, we do see quite a few academic authors who post their papers on their own websites and these papers are indexed by Google Scholar, which links the papers to such PDF files provided by the authors. In this way, the public may access the papers free of charge. Technically, the authors are breaking their copyright agreement with the publishers by doing this under the current copyright system.

      Of course, academic paper is only a small segment of the copyrightable subject matter. Yet, we can only deal with one thing at a time. Software developers have long been battling to free their works from copyright restriction. And others have contributed user generated contents to sites like Wikipedia under Creative Commons. Even the newspaper and magazine articles have become freely available online competiting for the attention of readers. So the trend is pretty clear: with the digital technologies, more literate works have become freely accessible. With a great amount of public attention diverted to the FREE stuff online, academic papers may become increasingly obscure and the academic community more and more marginalized as a result of copyright restriction.


      3) "More readers able to access more works would mean a greater likelihood that unacknowledged copying between them would be noticed and exposed." Really? Do we know that more people read access open access materials than traditionally published materials accessible via proprietary databases? Do we know if they detect plagiarism more often? This is a pretty bald assertion to make without any actual facts to back it up. Again, it's nonsensical to call for all of copyright to be abolished merely because there is a "likelihood" that more plagiarism might possibly be detected theoretically (funny that copyright opponents constantly complain that copyright policy is not sufficiently evidence based but seem to have no problem making their own assertions based on suppositions without any actual facts to back them up).

      I am not aware of any empirical studies that may prove or disprove the claim that removing copyright restriction will reduce plagiarism. But consider the machanism of Turnitin, the largest software system for plagiarism detection. Basically, Turnitin takes the papers under review and checks them against a database of published papers the authors may copy from using natural language processing. The trouble with Turnitin is that, to avoid criticisms about copyright infringement, they keep the users in dark with regard to what database they use. An alternative to Turnitin would be to build an open-source plagiarism checking system that is free for all teachers and students. And to do that, we need open access to all academic papers in machine-readable forms.

      So the case for plagiarism reduction is not about how many human readers will detect the cases of plagiarism but whether or not we can build a software sytem to do it. We have all the technologies available but copyright is the main obstacle.

       

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    Steve R. (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 5:27am

    Research Funding Source

    An additional thought. Any published research funded by public funding should NOT be eligible for copyright privileges. Research funded (directly or indirectly) by taxpayer dollars should fall directly into the public domain.

    TechDirt has long pointed out the problems with the Bayh-Dole Act. Wikipedia Bayh-Dole Act page.

     

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    Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 8:42pm

    Ok Richard, but you are talking more about motives than actual jurisprudence. There may have been a motive regarding the integrity of works (which had been a concern with gazillion authors throughout millennia). I can quote you passages from the Bible itself regarding the authors' worry that their words would end up distorted. I can even quote you from even as early as Ancient Greece.

    Yet, copyright (as we know it now) began as a commercial incentive for authors, so that they could be paid as their works were published. Yes, I recognize that something like "copyright" had to do with stationaries in Britain and their monopoly. Yet, copyright ***as we know now*** began with the Statute of Anne, and that's how the jurisprudence was established. I make this point because what is relevant for *today* at the legal level has to do with the actual jurisprudence which began in 1710. If the primary legal concern was to guarantee the words of the authors, then why only a temporary grant of that monopoly? Why the implied creation of the public domain? Once the work went to the public domain, by definition, the public could do anything they wanted with it ... right? Then why not assure copyright "forever" to guarantee the integrity of an author's work? Answer: because copyright in its original conception (i.e. since 1710) had little to do with the problem of the integrity of the works. From a jurisprudential standpoint, that became secondary. Copyright is just an incentive to promote culture, and the laws (jurisprudence) as originally created and designed for that purpose ... not to guarantee works' integrity.

     

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    wvhillbilly (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 9:44pm

    What about patents?

    Looks to me like the big fad among researchers, particularly medical researchers is to try to lock up all their findings with patents.

    My take: Patents and copyrights alike, they're all about greed. And the money the holders can get through litigation is just another added bonus, and some, like RIAA and patent trolls, are building their business models on this, IMO.

     

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    Karl Fogel (profile), Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 9:13am

    The "Integrity of the Work" is solved by digital distribution.

    Various comments talk about how one of the purposes of copyright was to protect the "integrity" of the work. This word can mean a lot of things, but in this context it means something like "not having poor-quality or otherwise unreliable copies being distributed in such a way that people think they are what the original author(s) intended".

    This concern was entirely appropriate at the time, because printers were notoriously unreliable and, unless watched carefully, would often make erroneous copies: leave out entire chapters, add material of their own or from some other source, lower the quality of illustrative engravings or leave them out entirely, etc.

    In the age of digital distribution, this concern doesn't really exist anymore. First, because making perfect copies every time is the default -- you have to work *harder* to make an imperfect copy, not the other way around. And second, because the same devices that allow us to copy also allow us to do automated comparisons, thus swiftly detecting when copies differ and how.

    Thus in modern times, the only droit moral that remains is that of attribution, which, of course, we anti-monopolists have been wholly in favor of all along. The most clarifying thing a legislature could do for copyright today would be to pass a law covering attribution separately from copying.

    So if such laws are necessary, by all means let's have them. However, note that crowd enforcement of attribution works pretty well in practice, so any new laws that cover attribution separately from copying should only fill in wherever common practice does not suffice by itself.

     

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    Alvin Phee, Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 2:27pm

    Yes Alvin Phee

    Yes we definitely do. I am a researcher by profession.

    Alvin Phee, Cali

     

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